The manufacturing sector is going through a period of growth, but this isn’t filtering down to its talent. Unfortunately, the industry has a bit of a reputation for not being digitally advanced. In reality, however, the opposite is true, with smart manufacturing on the rise. With such advances, the need for skilled talent has become more critical. Especially digital natives – Generation Z and Millennials.

Therefore, the industry must focus on attracting younger talent. As Justin Hobday, Partner at Carmichael Fisher, said: “It will be these workers who can adapt and respond to shifting technology and processes. Progress will be built on the shoulders of Millennials and Gen Z.”

This is particularly the case as automation and artificial intelligence becomes commonplace in factories. The question then becomes one of what industry can to position itself as an employer of choice and attract the talent it sorely needs?


The smart skills gap

The digital skills gap threatens many industries but will hit manufacturing extremely hard. In the US there will be a shortage of 2.4 million workers in the next decade, with an economic impact of $2.5 trillion. Existing workers aren’t fully equipped to deal with emerging technology. So, the skills gap will hinder progress of smart factories and stop leaders from fully realising their strategic goals. Productivity will fall, revenue will be lost and there will be a significant opportunity cost.

Hiring the right talent to work in smart factories is imperative. Yet, the manufacturing sector is falling short. Only 2 per cent of manufacturers believe that they are doing enough to equip young people for a long-term career in the industry.

Many generations in one factory

Then there’s the added complication of managing a multi-generational workforce. As younger people join the sector, leaders will have to manage the differing needs of several generations. Currently, 15 per cent of employees are over 55 years old and 17 per cent are under 24. In particular, manufacturers have expressed difficulties in retaining younger workers.

Challenging perceptions

We come back again to manufacturing’s image problem. Young professionals who have the skills to work in smart factories are likely to be attracted by the generous pay, perks and lifestyle afforded by technology companies. In the recruitment market, manufacturers are battling against the likes of Google and Netflix for the same talent. But as Justin Hobday explains, employers can overcome the perception talent may have of the sector by showcasing the reality of what a career in manufacturing is really like.

“It’s often a case of ‘selling’ the bigger picture,” he said. “This is a sector that more often than not provides career opportunities on a global scale. It is one that is leading the charge for safer, cleaner environments that are sustainable. And it is contrary to perception, one of the most technically-advanced sectors of any economy.”

Indeed, the move away from a product-led approach to a subscription-based model (SaaS) requires the same talent as that which could quite as easily be found working for some of the tech behemoth’s we’re all familiar with. This is also positively impacting earning potential.

According to Industry Week, workers in the manufacturing sector currently earn $20,000 more than their colleagues in other sectors. Staff retention rates have also been found to be one of the highest. As Justin said, “there is much to shout about, but the sector just needs to get better at vocalising it.”

Publicise innovations 

Communicating the many innovations that are happening in the sector is one solution. Younger people are ambitious and keen to advance their careers. Offering development opportunities is a top factor in retaining Millennials, who value learning and development more than any other preceding generation.

Manufacturing must inform potential workers about the many opportunities to grow their skills and career in the sector. AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology are causing a sea-change across the industry – all cutting-edge developments that an ambitious young professional would love to experience. Investment in learning is also important, but manufacturing firms are 8 per cent less likely to have a dedicated training budget.

Adapting to young talent

Adapting to younger employees’ lifestyles will also help to attract and retain talent. They value flexibility for side projects, extracurricular learning or to spend time with family. As businesses benefit from the blurring of work and home lives, thanks to advances in technologies, younger workers expect organisations to redress the balance by supporting them in personal development.

Attracting young talent is critical to the long-term success of smart factories. Therefore, it must be at the top of every leader’s to-do list. To start, manufacturing firms need to consider their communication and how to bridge the gap between young people’s perception of the sector and the reality. Then, processes need to adapt to younger workers who have different priorities to other generations. It involves some legwork but will pay off in the end. The factories that invest in their young talent now, will be industry-leaders well into the future.


About Justin Hobday

Justin is a Partner at Carmichael Fisher. Justin has vast experience working on international projects across multiple functions including HR, Operations, Commercial, Marketing with a very strong focus on Digital and Information Technology. Passionate about innovation and change, Justin has worked with large multinationals and PE backed organisations that are experiencing fast growth and transformation.

For a confidential conversation about how Justin can help your organisation attract the next generation of industry-leaders, please contact him.

By Justin Hobday, Partner

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Justin Hobday


Justin established Carmichael Fisher LLC and remains hands-on in his role leading many of the firm's key mandates.